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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1975.41.23.A
Title
Fragments of a Textile Hanging with Female Busts
Classification
Textile Arts
Work Type
textile
Date
5th-6th century
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Period
Byzantine period, Early
Culture
Byzantine
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/288639
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Wool and linen
Technique
Woven, tapestry weave
Dimensions
18 cm h x 107 cm w (7 1/16 in. h x 42 1/8 in. w)
Provenance
Hagop Kevorkian collection, gift; to the Fogg Museum, 1975.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Foundation in memory of Hagop Kevorkian
Accession Year
1975
Object Number
1975.41.23.A
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
This fragmentary tapestry-woven textile depicts five female busts representing well dressed woman interspersed with stylized pink and green palmettes. The exact orientation of these heads is uncertain, but this was most likely a hanging depicting a secular theme and hung in a domestic space. All the women are dark-haired and wear headdresses topped with crowns; what are either veils or haloes are covered in large round pearls. Though the busts may appear identical at first glance, they are marked by subtle variations in eye color, expression, and details of tunics and jewelry. All of their elaborate robes vary in decoration—some are woven with flower patterns, others are studded with jewels. Each woman registers a somewhat different expression. The most prominent feature of the faces is the eyes, with arched brows. Four of the women look to their left, while the rightmost returns their gaze. In the four women who look to the right, eye color alternates between blue and brown.

This pattern of female busts alternating with flowers seems to have been a common decorative trope in Byzantine interior spaces in Egypt and is attested in several media including architectural friezes. Such luxuriously dressed women may represent general ideas of prosperity, luxury, or feminine beauty. Their appearance is reminiscent of the (typically female) personifications of natural elements or beneficent concepts common to Late Antique art, such as the seasons, Earth, Renewal, and Enjoyment. In this particular textile, they may also represent tyche figures or empresses because of their turreted crowns.

There are areas of plain woven linen above and below the tapestry band.
Commentary
Comparable textiles in other institutions: Brooklyn Museum 38.684; Museum of Fine Arts Boston 30.685; University of Toronto, Malcove Collection M82.44; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 52.Dt.38
On many of the other similar textiles the women clearly wear a diadem and have haloes, instead of the more ambiguous headdress studded with pearls on this textile.
Publication History

Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), pp. 174-175/fig. 92

Exhibition History

Pagan and Christian Egypt: Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century AD, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 01/23/1941 - 03/09/1941

Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003

32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/30/2018 - 05/08/2019

Related Works

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu